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Date: 24 October 2020
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that the body needs in small amounts to function at its best. Most people should be able to get all of the vitamins and minerals they need as long as they eat a healthy, balanced diet.
For various reasons, some individuals may become deficient in vitamins and minerals. The most common of those deficiencies seen in our clinic are folate, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 deficiencies. The dietitian is available in clinic to assess your diet to make sure it is nutritionally complete, and to advise on dietary sources of vitamins and minerals.
Folate can also be known as folic acid. It is required to help red blood cells to form and grow. A lack of folate can cause megaloblastic anaemia. Folate deficiencies can often be found in those who drink excess amounts of alcohol. It has been found that people who have an excessive intake of alcohol often have a poor diet that is low in folate. Alcohol can also interfere with the absorption of folate, resulting in very low levels found in the body.
Folate is especially important during pregnancy to reduce the risk of central nervous system problems in the unborn baby. Good sources of folate include:
- Brussels sprouts
- peas, chickpeas
- fortified cereals
Do not overcook vegetables, as this decreases the amount of folate they contain. If you’re pregnant, or thinking of trying for a baby, take 0.4mg (400 microgram) of folic acid supplement daily from the time you stop using contraception until the twelfth week of pregnancy. This is to help prevent birth defects of the central nervous system, such as spina bifida, in your baby.
Iron is a mineral which is important to keep red blood cells healthy. Not having enough iron can cause iron deficiency anaemia. Feeling tired and lacking energy are common symptoms of not having enough iron in your body. Good sources of iron include:
- dried fruit
- fortified breakfast cereal
- whole grains, e.g. brown rice
- dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and watercress
Do not drink tea with meals as the tannins in tea reduce the absorption of iron from food.
Vitamin C increases absorption, so have a small glass of unsweetened natural fruit juice with iron rich foods.
Vitamin D has several important functions. For example, it helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which is important for teeth and bone health. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children, or bone pain and tenderness as a result of a condition called osteomalacia in adults.
Not all vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be addressed by diet alone. Dietary sources of vitamin D are limited, but it can be found in:
- certain breakfast cereals and other fortified products
Our body makes vitamin D by sunlight. However, the sunlight in the UK is often inadequate to allow many of us make enough vitamin D. Pregnant women, people over the age of 65, those who do not have much exposure to the sun, e.g. night shift workers, and people from ethnic groups with darker skin types should take vitamin D supplements, especially in the winter months. Our dietitians can provide information and advice regarding vitamin D supplementation.
Vitamin B12 helps to make important cells in the body, particularly red blood cells. It’s also important for our brain and nervous system. The main sources of vitamin B12 are:
As long as you follow a healthy, varied and balanced diet, you should get sufficient amounts.
Excessive amounts of alcohol can reduce the absorption of vitamin B12 in the body.
Unfortunately if you are deficient in Vitamin B12 you can be prone to developing anaemia. Symptoms of anaemia include:
- feeling faint
If left, vitamin B12 deficiencies can also cause:
- tingling and numbness in hands and feet
- poor concentration
Certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be identified from your blood results. This will be addressed at your clinic appointment.